The first time I had sex, I was completely hot for it. The guy in question brought about previously unknown adolescent urges, and Anchorman-style I wanted to be ON him. But, having read a lot of teen magazines, I knew our very first session might be a little less than magical so I was well prepared - mentally and physically (condoms: check, lube: check, realistic expectations of the hymen: check). The second, though, was presumably going to be all hunky-dory. So I took the first awkward floppy poking mess in my stride - and then became increasingly psyched for the fireworks ahead.
The second time, though, while less awkward, not at all floppy and only a little messy, was still definitely POKEY. More accurately, and reflecting my partner’s brimming enthusiasm, it was poke-poke-poke-poke-poke—poke-poke-pokey. A quiet panic started to creep over me. While he was violently ejaculating and collapsing in sweaty self-satisfaction, I was absolutely nowhere close. There was clearly something horribly wrong.
I lived with this angst for several months before thinking to do anything about it, paralysed by the panic that there was something amiss with my vagina. I soon started seeking out and taking lots of myriad pieces of advice. Firstly, I took the advice of Gwyneth Paltrow. After she enthused in an interview about how a Brazilian wax changed her life, I headed to my nearest waxing salon. Next I followed some more medical-sounding advice and began practising those Kegel exercises that I am now 100% sure teenagers don’t need to do. Failing to see the benefits in either of those, I upped my game, SATC-style, and bought some wildly impractical underwear and a shiny blue vibrator. OK, so the vibrator WORKED the way it was supposed to - but none of my desperate attempts were improving the two-person sex I was having.
Feeling increasingly hopeless and finding myself becoming tearful post-sex, I got brave and decided to actually talk to someone who wasn't Gwyneth Paltrow about it. The nurse at my local GP seemed like a good bet. She issued me my contraceptive pill so the next time I went in, I mentioned in the most casual way I could that I-wasn’t-having-a-very-good-time-sexwise. “Oh,” she said comfortingly, “…just make sure you’re well lubricated." With my heart sunken almost to my vagina itself, I replied: “Yeah, I, um… OK."
I wasn’t ever going to speak to anyone about it again but fate intervened. One evening, having had a few too many glasses of wine, my mother (god love her for this) blurted out that sex had never really done it for her and she preferred “the other stuff”. While part of me was a little repulsed by this uncharacteristic over-share, I was thrilled for my tragic vagina. It wasn’t as freakish as I had thought. And it occurred to me: this might be a THING, ladies preferring “the other stuff”.
A year or so and a boyfriend later, some further reassurance came my way. An article about the Maggie Gyllenhaal film Hysteria discussed female sexual dissatisfaction and mentioned a book entitled The Technology of Orgasm. I had to get it. Only 120 pages long, it felt epic. As a history book, it described the 1880s technological development of the vibrator for women displaying “hysterical” symptoms a lot like sexual frustration and for whom a quick clitoral rub-down seemed to put them right. Both funny and educational, the book actually stirred up a lot of anger in me, explicitly condemning as it does the (heteronormative) “androcentric model of sexuality” which largely disregarded any sexual pleasure that didn’t fit with the vaginal poking fiasco I had come to resent.
With all the fervour of a recent convert, I then found Shere Hite, glamorous 70s sex researcher, and her encyclopedic study, The Hite Report. In it she examines women’s responses to a lengthy questionnaire and compiled statistics such as my now much-recited: “only 30 percent of women orgasm regularly from intercourse”. Detailing copious extracts from women’s wonderfully explicit questionnaire responses, the book felt like reading a million secret diaries, interspersed with Hite’s own profoundly encouraging and practical advice, such as this: “To have an orgasm during intercourse, there are two ways she can increase her chances, always remembering that she is adapting her body to a less than adequate situation. First and most important, she must consciously try to apply her masturbation techniques to intercourse, or experiment to find out what else may work to get clitoral stimulation; or she can work out a sexual relationship with a particular man who can meet her individual needs.”
And that’s when it really sunk in: there wasn’t anything wrong with me - or my nonplussed vagina. It was traditional, P-in-V sex itself that was “less than adequate”. Mind. Blown. I needed to start seeing who else knew about this.
More confident to undertake some (psychological) probing of friends, I began asking whether sex did anything for them either. Some happily informed me that they really loved sex and found it thoroughly satisfying (jealous, I’ll admit). Others told me they liked it mentally and everything, but oh my god, it does nothing for me too! in a weirdly excited way that I'm guessing came from the relief, rather than the rather crappy truth itself. And while I can’t lie that the truth does feel kinda crappy, there are two massive benefits I have found to speaking up about it.
1. NOT FEELING LIKE A FREAK.
Can’t stress this enough. If you have struggled with sex disappointment, I am guessing you’ve struggled with self-blame too, hating your poor body for its “inadequate” responses which every film, magazine, late night TV show (here's looking at you, Eurotrash and Sexcetera) and porno seem to mock. But finding out you are not alone, and that you’re not the thing that’s inadequate brings on a healthy dose of self-love and forgiveness.
2. FEELING CONFIDENT ENOUGH TO ENLIGHTEN YOUR PARTNER.
Yes, I did this. Yes, before I did it I seriously thought he would be so emotionally wounded he would dump me. And yes, it led to a lot of questions: firstly, “Is that normal?” (cue thrusting The Hite Report at him like a big, phallic proof), then, “But what about those noises you make?” (um… mortified, but it was, er, good to explain) and then, “What can I do to help you out?” (for real, my heart climbed back into my chest and cried little tears of orgasmic joy).
So, as a plea to anyone else suffering in silence, feeling sad and dissatisfied and altogether left out of the sex party everyone else is busy getting drunk at, JOIN US. Me and those weirdly excited friends and I have started a website for sharing our stories.
It’s called “Doing it: Not doing it for me”.
She won’t know it, but I’m giving my mum credit for the name.
To anonymously submit your own story of disappointing sex to our new site, or to read about some book/film/website suggestions that might make you feel less freaky (in the bad way) visit the gals behind this new phenomenon at: www.doingitnotdoingitforme.com